Chronicle VI: October-December 2016

University and College Union pickets at the University of Leeds

University and College Union pickets at the University of Leeds

Well, just as with the last time I wrote one of these, we are still on strike again, so there is now time to write it. With the trip to Istanbul that immediately preceded the start of term now finally dealt with, it’s time again to look at my life academic as it stood at the current date of my backlog, sadly the end of 2016 but for once I am catching up, and take stock of what was going on and, of course, what of it still merits blogging about!


I mentioned in the second of these posts that I had begun at Leeds with a fairly light teaching load. In my second year there that changed. I mentioned this last time, of course, but in autumn 2016 I was managing a whole-cohort first-year undergraduate medieval survey, involving coordinating many colleagues senior to me (though actually, it must be said, they were all fine about it); I was teaching a module of my own invention on the Carolingians, though thankfully for its second run, with only slight alterations; and, for the first time, my final-year special subject on Christian and Muslim Spain, which was lots of fun but also a huge amount of work, especially to get the source translations on which it necessarily had to rely done in time. I will say only that my student feedback for that module, while it won me a commendation so glowing was it—and they were a really fun group—also jokingly added: “Get more sleep!” Well, I have tried, here and there, but… I supervised all four of their dissertations, too, which is usual at Leeds, which is a few more teaching hours. I also did a single lecture on historians and archaeology for a second-year methodology module, which was fun, and at postgraduate level I also did three classes on charters or coins for our MA students. I had picked up part-care of a doctoral student from the same person from whom I’d inherited the medieval survey, and I was advising four other doctoral students, though that was a pleasure and didn’t take much planning, just a few more e-mails. I was also managing a team of postgraduate tutors on the big survey module, so occasionally I was observing them teach and trying to be helpful. There was, of course, no part of this activity except the archaeology lecture that did not also require some kind of form filled out afterwards…

Anyway, it amounted to an average of pretty much 8 hours in a classroom a week, some weeks more some less, and 2 office hours a week as well, but quite a lot of preparation behind the scenes to hold it all together, because so much of it was new teaching. Add in feedback meetings come marking time, which begins in the fifth week of the first semester and can sometimes just never end, and personal tutorials, and that total of fixed-down time was increased considerably, and then once term ground to an end, it was time to look around at next semester and panic about how much needed to be got ready, reading lists especially, so that everything would start on time again after Christmas.

Other Efforts

Somehow, I was also still doing coins cataloguing, as you’ll doubtless see in a future post, but some weeks I could not, and some weeks I could only do an hour or so because of other engagements. It was, I suppose, looking back, the first of my non-core activities to become unsustainable, and it was a concern of my bosses anyway, in case it stopped me producing the research I was bound to by my probation plan. It is also noticeable, going over the old diary, how many other activities crept in at outside behest: staff meetings, a Royal Historical Society lecture we host that one is asked to attend (and which on this occasion was being given by one of my old bosses, so I did want to go), open evenings, classification meetings and annual review meetings, which added another hour or so a week on average but often bunched. I was also acting as Library Representative, a communications channel between the department and the Library, which became contentious quite early on when the Library’s budget was cut and they had to lose a substantial number of their electronic subscriptions to keep going. This was at least as much the relevant publishers’ fault as the university’s, but it did involve me in an active campaign to try and remind the university that the Library was not a department but a service that underpinned its whole operation… I and several other people put together a really substantial letter making this point, which went up the chain to management, and about which we never heard anything further. But we did try, and it was all work, which now it exhausts me slightly even to remember.

Other People’s Research

One thing on which I had not yet cut back, however, was seminars; I was still going to a lot, and with some glee crossing into other disciplines to try and find possible collaborators with whom I didn’t then realise I’d never have time to collaborate. This is the list as it emerges from my notes:

  • Raluca Radulescu, “Legendary history and the land: vernacular chronicle writing in fifteenth-century England”, the Institute for Medieval Studies Public Lecture at Leeds, featuring perhaps the most beaten-up manuscript I’ve ever seen but not giving me much else to comment on at three years’ distance;
  • Zygmunt Bauman, “Europe’s Adventure: Still Unfinished?”, a lecture hosted by an institute named after the speaker, whom I’m very glad I saw as he died not long after, sad to say; this was of course right after both the election of Donald Trump as President and the UK’s referendum to leave the European Union, and it is still probably the sanest and most plausible commentary I’ve seen on either event, and can be read as part of a larger argument elsewhere;
  • Valentina Costantini, “Meat, butchers and public order: late medieval Siena in a European perspective”, Medieval History Seminar, University of Leeds, actually a really interesting study of what was effectively urban community management, with the town on one side facing demand for meat that was a big part of people’s presenting as élite and well-to-do and so regulating its price and quality, and on the other side the butchers, thus constrained in what they could charge or sell but in a very powerful position if they chose to strike; for a while the Sienese butchers’ Guild was even banned, so dangerous was it felt to be. But as was observed in questions, this kind of expectation of available meat was a very late medieval, possibly even post-plague, phenomenon. Before that only aristocrats ate meat, and of course that class divide was exactly what no-one wanted back…1
  • John Haldon, “The Avgat Archaeological Project”, Centre for the Study of the Middle Ages/Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies Joint Seminar, University of Birmingham, where I think everybody was fairly surprised to see me, and where Professor Haldon, returned to Birmingham on sabbatical, was presenting about a provincial Turkish site where he had been digging, at which they had located part of a fort and some trappings of city life as well as mapping the surrounded settlements by field survey; it was early days yet but it sounded like a really usefully usual site, if you know what I mean, and I expect more will come of it;
  • Hannah Ford, “What’s Next for Critical Data Studies?”, Critical Data Studies Group Seminar, back at Leeds for a brand-new seminar whither I went because of that wish to find collaborators; it sounded like something to which I could contribute, looking at the need to be able to evaluate what big data is really telling us, even if its primary focus was medical;
  • Jonathan Spangler, “A thistle between lilies and roses: the Renaissance duchy of Lorraine as a border space, between France and the Habsburgs”, Interdisciplinary Renaissance and Early Modern Seminar, University of Leeds, to which I went partly because of borders and partly because there are some Lorraine coins of this period in our collection from which I now knew about some of the relevant rulers’ existence, which seemed like reasons enough to me;
  • Jennifer Davis, “Rethinking the Frankish Capitulary”, Earlier Middle Ages Seminar, Institute of Historical Research, University of London, about which I should probably blog separately give its relevance to my stuff;
  • Maroula Perisanidi, “Clerical marriage in a comparative perspective”, Medieval History Seminar, University of Leeds, about which I should probably also blog separately given that Maroula is currently a much-valued colleague and as yet I’ve given her basically two lines of the blog;
  • Elisa Foster, “The Black Madonna: Medieval Devotion and Modern Misconceptions”, Medieval Group Seminar, of interest to me because of Our Lady of Montserrat but putting her in a much broader but equally mysterious context;2
  • Chris Given-Wilson, “Sorcerors, Bastards, Changelings: political smears in late medieval England”, Institute for Medieval Studies Public Lecture, covering the succession dispute rhetoric Wars of the Roses in exhaustive detail;
  • Elizabeth Leake, “Ethnonationalism and the Politics of Resistance in South Asia’s Borderlands”, Identity, Power and Protest Seminar, University of Leeds, a new colleague presenting but a paper for which I was late arriving so will merely say, it was a discussion I was pleased to be able to take part in;
  • Janel Fontaine, “Assessing the Evidence of Slave Trading in Early Anglo-Saxon England and Great Moravia”, Earlier Middle Ages Seminar, Institute of Historical Research, University of London, a paper given by someone I remembered being about to start an MA and by this time well on the way through their doctorate, and here arguing that all the limited evidence for early medieval slave trading in, as it happened, conversion-period England and Moravia, doesn’t amount to a large-scale trade even if slaves were commonly available; I doubted whether this had really been shown but had to concede Hugh Kennedy‘s point that in the Islamic East we do have a large-scale slave trade very obvious in the evidence and that this does suggest that the same thing wasn’t happening in the West;
  • Kevin MacNish, “Correlation not Causation and the Moral Problems It Brings”, Critical Data Studies Seminar, University of Leeds, epitomising what this new seminar was supposed to be about by talking through some classic stories of bad, or even unhelpfully good, deductions from data and how the conclusions one can sometimes draw from data are trouble to put to work, and which he helpfully has online if that sounds interesting;
  • Jason T. Roche, “The Crusades in the Balkans: Dearth Amidts Plenty”, Medieval History Seminar, University of Leeds, an expanded version of an older paper looking at the same kind of provisioning and logistics questions about getting Crusade armies through south-eastern Europe to the Holy Land as discussed by Michael Hendy long ago and wondering whether modelling would make matters any clearer;3
  • Emilia Jamroziak, “The Present Mirrored in the Past: Why Interpreting Medieval Monasticism Matters”, Professor Jamroziak’s inaugural lecture at the University of Leeds, looking especially at the way that monks and nuns form part of the popular image of the Middle Ages but not in ways that they themselves would always have recognised, because of the influence of stripped-back, reformist spiritualities that see bare buildings and pure Benedictine observance as good and everything else as decline; she proposed using monastic saints’ cults as a way of being able to talk about regional difference and diversity of actual observance; and lastly…
  • Jonathan Jarrett, “Judging the Judges in the Frankish March of Spain before the Year 1000”, Medieval and Renaissance Seminar, University of Sheffield, which I’ll talk more about below.

So, having assembled all of that I have to admit it looks a bit manic. I suppose I just thought it ought to be possible. If no-one goes to these things, after all, there’s no point in arranging them, and the whole process of exchange of knowledge breaks down, and I had got a very long way hitherto by listening to people encapsulating research of theirs which I had no time to read. Also, all of these seminars were outside regular working hours, so should in theory have cut into my free time, not my working time. Of course, that’s not how academia actually works…

My Own Research

But the cost became very obvious by the time that last seminar rolled close. Since the beginning of teaching, really, and even back into the summer while I was preparing that teaching, I wasn’t able to do any research at all. I was working on the train to work, I was working at home until I had to sleep, and I was working at work. So when it got to about a fortnight from the seminar, I had been able to do nothing for it at all, and in the end I had to make the straight-up choice between using a weekend I badly needed for other work or pulling out of the seminar. I chose the former. The paper wasn’t that bad, I hope, and working on it made me realise that I’d probably attributed a bit too much to Count-Marquis Borrell II (ya think?), on the grounds that the people who reformed the Barcelona judicial system in the tenth century, whom I thought he’d hired or promoted, turned out in fact mostly to have started elsewhere, often in Besalú. Of course, they wound up in Barcelona where the money was anyway, but this meant that I had to rethink Borrell a bit, actually identify the judges and so on; it was all work that will still serve me at some point soon. But that long day-and-a-half were all the research time I could find in these three months.

Towards the end of this period, for one week I actually logged my working hours. I probably shouldn’t say what they were, but ‘excessive’ would be a description I think no-one would argue with. But the trouble was, next semester my teaching load was going to be higher. Multiplying the working week up by the appropriate amount made it clear that we’d be moving from ‘excessive’ to what I thought was ‘impossible’. And I suppose that is the story of the next of these posts. For the meantime, however, I seem to have promised only two seminar reports, maybe some coins and I have a couple of other stubs from this long ago that need writing up, and of course I have strike time in which to do that, so hopefully the next of these posts is not all that far in the future!

1. The work on which this paper was based seems to have become a book, Valentina Costantini, Carni in rivolta: Macellai a Sienna nel medioevo, Dentro il medioevo 9 (Siena 2018).

2. I dithered over writing this one up too, but it transpires that something quite similar now exists as Elisa A. Foster, “The Black Madonna of Montserrat: An Exception to Concepts of Dark Skin in Medieval and Early Modern Iberia?” in Pamela A. Patton (ed.), Envisioning Others: Race, Color, and the Visual in Iberia and Latin America, The Medieval and Early Modern Iberian World 62 (Leiden 2016), pp. 18–50, so I guess you can look there should you need to know more.

3. Michael Hendy, Studies in the Byzantine Monetary Economy, c. 350-1450 (Cambridge 1985), pp. 35-44.

9 responses to “Chronicle VI: October-December 2016

  1. Cheer up. When I was young I left academic life to work “in industry”. My boss was in awe of the amount of work I could get through.

    I have heard it argued that academics get through lots of work when they are young and slack off when they get older. When I returned to academic life I found myself pouring in the hours again but I was better disciplined at cutting back in the vacations. A chap ought to see something of his wife and offspring don’t you think?

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